The city was dark and silent. The gates were closed and the docks abandoned. No one dared to stir on this night. Even thieves and mercenaries did not walk the streets and alleys. Silence sat over the roofs like a pall and mothers hushed their children. Brave men dared to look out windows and gaze into the sky. Friends couldn’t see their neighbor’s houses from their front doors such was the caution. None of the residents of the city dared to break the fragile silence that encompassed all. The clouds hung heavy overhead and sailed low.
In a meagre wooden shack, on the outskirts of the walls, a mother set her child down in his cot hushing him.
“Why the quiet?” the child whispered. The mother pulled the blankets over the boy.
“He comes tonight,” the mother ambiguously replied, the look on her face a clear end to the matter.
In a mansion onlooking the city square, a group of sellswords gathered in a basement to quietly gamble. They rolled the dice on a small length of silk they had procured.
“Man upstairs want us to stay up all night, damn,” the man said, cursing his poor luck. The man next to him picked up the dice.
“He pays us well, though I still don’t understand what’s going on out there,” he rolled them again. The sellsword captain stepped away from the door to the basement.
“Old wives’ tales rule this city, and that means easy money is all you need to understand,” she made clear to her men. They went back to their gambling.
“All I don’t understand is if it’s an old wives’ tale, wouldn’t somebody in the city not follow the ritual?” the first man inquired.
“Yeah, if it’s nothing then why don’t you go outside?” the second man added. The captain shook her head.
“I don’t have answers, only orders. Stay inside, stay awake and stay quiet until the sun rises.”
The clouds overhead began to gain an unnatural to pallor to them. The wind picked up and swept them aside. The moon floated closer to the ground, and was stained the color of blood.
In the wealthy districts, a merchant stood staring mesmerized out of the clerestory on his ground floor.
“Step away, dear,” his wife hissed at him. She was rather superstitious having grown up in the city proper.
“I just wanted to see the moon. I’ve never seen it like that.” He heeded his wife’s words and hurried over to the cushions she was lounging on.
“It’s not what you’re going to see its what you’re going to hear,” she warned. He leaned into her.
“How many of these have you slept through?” he teased. She glared at him daring to show her previously hidden terror.
“None,” she spat near silently. He kissed her on the forehead.
“Well, this will be the first one you spend with me, so at least to try,” he pleaded. She shook her head, tears welling.
“You’ll see, you’ll see.”
The light began to change outside the window. The slight change caught both of their attention. The silence was suddenly broken by heavy footsteps crunching gravel. The sound shattered the night and bore into the minds of the merchant and his wife. A red lantern floated past the window.
“What is that?” the merchant whispered faintly. The woman reached out and covered his mouth. His breath caught in his throat. He gazed at her, and tears were pouring down the cheeks of her shaking head though her eyes were tightly shut.
“I come from the ocean, to test your devotion,” said a deep, grating voice outside as if trying to emulate a nursery rhyme. The merchant covered his ears, hoping to never hear that voice tearing through the night again. The footsteps picked up again, like drumbeats for an unseen army out in the dark, and seemed to stop outside their back door. A sound like a turning stone wheel crashed through the door. Terror gripped the merchant and he shook his wife.
“I didn’t bolt the door,” he whispered, pointing. They both stared at the solid wooden frame and small metal latch. The light dissipated slowly as if in rhythm with whatever stood behind that wooden door.
“When I ask what’s left, there’s nothing but death,” the grating voice boomed again. Bloody light shot in through the window lighting the entire interior up as if the sun had turned a dark red. The merchant’s wife began to try to suppress screams of sheer terror as the light bore in. The merchant rose and approached the door, fear gripping him as it never had before. The latch creaked upwards grinding against its frame, and the merchant attempted to silently quicken his pace. His steps seemed like howls of warning to the mysterious intruder. When the latch reached its halfway point, the merchant had finally gotten to the door. He attempted to slowly and silently bolt the door. He tediously slid it halfway along its railing when a soft pressure fell upon the door. The merchant leaned back against it, desperately wishing his presence went unnoticed. The door did not give way and the pressure subsided. The light in the room faded back to normal, and the merchant and his wife eyed each other, collectively sighing their relief.
The bolt clicked into place. Screeching began outside, so loud as to drown out all thought in a person’s mind, and the merchant began to scream in terror as the door disintegrated inwards.
In the basement, an unholy cacophony was rousing the company. The captain demanded they lower their voices even more. They huddled closer together, now uncertain of their past bravado.
“What is it? What’s happening?” one of the men asked the captain. They all looked to her like lost dogs. Unnerved as well, she sighed.
“I don’t know, I just know people are dying,” she replied tersely attempting to avoid the conversation. The look on her face must have given her away.
“Come on, this ain’t no normal job, if something’s coming after us I’d rather face it on the streets, not cramped together down here,” one of the company stated. Men nodded and whispered their agreement. The captain leaned back.
“I do know that whatever is happening, there is no fighting it. If it was brigands pillaging and raping, the people wouldn’t be screaming like that,” she pointed towards the sound. “Those are people who wish to die because they’re terrified.”
As if by magic, the sound died down when the captain pointed. Some of the men began to understand and shards of fear began to run down their spines.
“What is this old wives’ tale then? The one that causes this mass lockdown?” one of the men cleverly remembered. The captain sighed again, knowing there was no more avoiding it, they would continue to press her for details until she caved or until the sun came up, which was not for many more hours.
“They say it says: ‘I come from the ocean, to test the people’s devotion. There’s nothing left but death.’. It walks the streets listening for lies, is how they put it. Hell if I know what that means.” all of the sellswords’ collective attention was lended to the captain, almost petrified by the outlandish children’s story, “either way, it kills people, but not before torturing them, brutally. Maybe it’s just a serial killer that comes out once a year, maybe that’s why we’re here.”
“What about all the king’s soldiers?” inquired a bright minded sellsword. “Surely, if it were a killer, soldiers would be patrolling the streets, the lights would be on and the people would sleep soundly?”
The group broke out into a heated whispering debate at the validity of the serial killer theory. They carried on as such for many minutes before their bickering was silenced by three booming knocks on the cellar door. The company got to their feet immediately and drew their swords and daggers. The captain stepped cautiously towards the opposite stairwell, leading up to the cellar door and the alley beyond. The knocks rang out again, harshly against the thick metal.
“What do you think--”
“Silence, all of you,” the captain berated. She crept up the stairs, and gazed through the crack of the large metal doors into the bloody light beyond. Blood red light seeped through. She gasped then collapsed down the stairs. Her armor and swords clanked frighteningly loudly as she tumbled comically down the short stairwell. Two of her men moved to catch her but failed as she cracked her head on the stone floor rendering her unconscious. The company stepped away from the cellar door, their steps tentative.
“What do we do?” inquired the youth, terror dripping with every word.
“Stay quiet,” said the bravest of them and he ascended the stairs even slower and quieter then before peering through the opening. He descended to the floor sheathing his weapon.
“Whatever it was, it must have moved on. The captain will tell us, I’m sure,” he leaned down to pick her up. “Let’s make her more--”
His windpipe was in the captain’s hand, blood pouring down his neck and breastplate, and as he fell she rose, eyes shut. A shocked cry rang out and the men drew their weapons, ready to strike her down should she move against them. Standing, the captain smiled.
“When I ask what’s left, there’s nothing but death,” she breathed, and opened her eyes to bathe the room in the color of blood.
The shack’s walls shook with the thunder of terror as it swept through the city’s poorest district. The boy could not help but begin to cry in fear as it infected his being. His mother rushed in and went to his side and covered his mouth and tried to awkwardly hug him close to her.
“Hush now, mustn’t be afraid, must be quiet,” she cooed in his ear rocking him back and forth. He quieted, but continued to shudder and quake. As he became quiet, so did the nearest cries and shouts. The woman pulled her child’s head into her shoulder and covered his ears,very softly humming. Nearby, footsteps began and the crunching of stone beneath heavy boots carried a great distance. The city was so silent besides, when they became closer it was like drum’s beating towards her door. Tears formed in her eyes and silent prayers fell off her lips and she began to rock the boy frantically. She heard the latch turned but the bolt caught. Three resounding knocks in the night. She sealed her eyes and forced her tears down. Three more cries in the night.
In a nearby home, a sound like glass shattering broke out. The footsteps resumed now, carrying farther and farther away until they faded to nonexistence. She breathed a large sigh of relief and put her child back on the bed drawing up the blankets once again.
“Put your head under your pillow if you need to cry again,” she breathed into his ear and kissed him on the head. She rose to leave and turned and knocked her shoulder into something. She slowly turned and froze, petrified by fear and terrified of breaking the silence. He was standing there in full glory in front of her.
His cloak was shadow. His face was death.
Written by Ithengast